I stopped by to see my friend Nell the other day and was wowed by her stunning front yard. A vibrant celebration of native plants, it features Orange Globemallow, Woolly Sunflower (aka ‘Oregon Sunshine’) and several different Penstemons. These are set off by Bitterbrush (on the left, just finishing bloom) and Curleaf Mountain Mahogany. Originally designed and installed by Casey O’Leary in 2013 and cared for by Nell ever since, it is a real inspiration!
Above is a view of Rush Skeleton Weed growing out of cracks in the asphalt just up the street from my house. At least that is what it looked like before I cut the stalks and painted the basal leaves with a very toxic herbicide. Departing from organic practices and employing chemicals has been a painful transition for me. Yet, in the case of Skeleton Weed, I can see no alternative. According to the Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign, it has infested a million acres in the state. You see it everywhere in the lower Foothills.
There are others too. Whitetop has just arrived in my neighborhood and I worry about it spreading. Field Bindweed (Morning Glory) is tough–just keep picking the leaves until it gives up (not easy). Cheatgrass spreads like wildfire (and loves wildfire!)–just pull it all and throw in the trash.
Sigh. May is a wonderful month in many ways, but it is also the Month of Weeds. For more information and to request a booklet on Idaho’s Noxious Weeds, go to http://idahoweedawareness.com/index.html
A hike on Sunday revealed a glorious spring bloom in the Foothills. Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Lupines, Evening Primroses, pink and white Phlox, Death Camas, Biscuitroot, Bitterbrush in its full-bloom glory and more. Despite the sea of invasive grasses, these troopers bloom on gamely, giving hikers a real show. I have found it difficult, if not impossible, to grow many of these local natives in the garden. So, I appreciate them in the wild, where they are happy. I hope you can too!
One of the most delightful signs of spring is the emergence of Aase’s Onion in open, sandy areas of the Boise Front. These charming natives are known to occur only in 6 counties of S. Idaho. Named in honor of Hannah Aase (1883-1980), a former botany professor at WSU in Pullman, this ephemeral beauty is also called the South Idaho Onion.
Most of us just encounter onions in the kitchen or in our soup. But it’s exciting to know that there are nearly 20 different onion species that are native to Idaho, and many, many more that are found elsewhere in North America. Another reason to keep your eyes on the ground when hiking!
A sure sign of spring–the yellow blossoms of Creeping Oregon Grape are a welcome source of pollen for hungry bees of all sorts. Oregon Grape (surprise!) is the state flower of Oregon, and the OSU Extension Service declares that no garden should be without one. The short, “Creeping” version in my front yard is an Idaho native–a lovely little evergreen shrub that grows in sun or shade. I definitely agree with OSU!
March 23, 2019
Each year as the leaves come down we can regard them as a nuisance or as a great gift of organic matter that benefit our landscapes. The Xerces Society’s new campaign Leave the Leaves articulates the benefits of leaves for our insect friends—check it out:https://xerces.org/2017/10/06/
Or, if this is the year you have decided to kill some of your lawn, collect your neighbor’s unwanted leaves, put down a base layer of overlapping cardboard or heavy paper and pile the leaves on top. Plant into the mulch next spring.
November 6, 2018
The more I work with plants, especially native plants, the more I realize that the real goal is not simply replacing lawn and consuming less water. The real goal is creating Habitat: Habitat for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, myriad other insects–and birds. (Build it and they will come!) A landscape that is truly a Habitat buzzes with life. It changes with the seasons. It evolves from year to year, always revealing new surprises. It creates the opportunity for new insights into the natural world that is everywhere around us. It is not static. There are many rewards for the gardener who creates Habitat, one of the best being that the Landscape becomes Habitat for humans!
September 24. 2018
If you have a moment, stop by the Garden City Library and check out the beautiful Pollinator Garden right next to the library. It was lovely last May when we celebrated its grand opening. And it is still beautiful now, at the tail end of summer. Creator Judy Snow has done a marvelous job of attracting all kinds of bees, bugs and hummingbirds by providing the food they need over a long growing season. It is an inspiration!
Draggin’ Wing will open for fall planting September 5 and be open for the whole month Wednesday-Saturday 10-5. Fall is the best!
September 2, 2018
I love it when customers send me photos of their beautiful landscapes. This one really knocked my socks off! Jacob filled his smallish front yard with a huge variety of plants, and his approach has paid off–low water but full of vibrant color. Photo courtesy of Jacob Durtschi.
June 24, 2018
The Paintbrush is blooming on Mores Mountain! It’s just one of the most striking sights awaiting hikers. But as much as people would love to have Paintbrush in their home gardens, I have not yet figured out how to grow these beauties in a pot–or even in the ground. Fun facts: 1) the red you see are bracts (modified leaves), which hide the tiny flowers 2) most Paintbrushes are semi-parasitic, deriving some of their nutrients and water from the roots of a host plant, a strategy that allows them to inhabit drier spots.There are about 250 species of Paintbrush in N. America and over 20 in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Moyer.
June 15, 2018
|May Flowers! It takes my breath away when May arrives and flowers just jump up out of the green. This year the woody Penstemons–like this one (Dwarf Shrubby)–are in exceptionally fine form. What makes for a good Penstemon year? What unique combination of winter cold, spring warmth, snow cover, rain, sun? It’s a mystery to me, but a delight to witness.
May 18, 2018
I have always adored the flowering pears in the middle of Harrison Blvd. That is, until I started thinking of them as Alien Ornamentals and understood what that implies. These showy spring beauties are cultivars of the Asian Callery Pear and–as members of an introduced species–they do not offer food for native insects. You may think, “Great! No pest problems!” The catch is that native insects feed native birds, especially while they are raising chicks. So as far as wildlife is concerned, these pears are a beautiful desert.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy has compared insect productivity on a flowering alien Pear vs. a White Oak in his Pennsylvania home and found hundreds more caterpillars on the Oak than the Pear. Who needs caterpillars? Baby chickadees! The takeaway is that if we want to support native insects and birds, we need to plant natives. To read more, check out https://www.nytimes.com/2015/
Golden Currant is blooming, this one in my back yard. Take a hike in the Foothills or along the Boise River and you will surely see some.
There isn’t a whole lot left of this native Snowberry bush in winter–except for those dramatic cascades of white berries! The berries themselves, though not poisonous are apparently not very palatable to birds and other wildlife. So they hang there lovely profusion throughout the winter. A well-named plant indeed.
January 10, 2018
When redesigning a landscape to conserve water, many people face the daunting challenge of removing lawn. Here is a great example from veteran xeriscaper Jill Weigel. She and her husband stopped watering the lawn this summer but they knew it would still come back with the first fall rains. The next step to completely eradicate the lawn was to cover it with cardboard. Step three was to hide the cardboard by spreading out a thick layer of organic much. They are now are ready to plant!
Alert!! Cheatgrass Season is on! May is great for flowers, but it is also when Cheatgrass sets seed, thereby becoming both recognizable and vulnerable. Cheatgrass, as you may know, is an incredibly successful annual weed, having taken over much of the Foothills (yes, a lot of that nice green fuzz up there) and many urban landscapes. Cheatgrass has two important allies: 1) Fire, and 2) Gardeners who ignore it. The key to controlling it is to understand its strategy—seeds! To win pull up all the Cheatgrass you see NOW—a gentle tug will do—and throw the seed head in the garbage. Mowing will not help—it only comes back shorter and makes more seed. Do not wait until the Cheat is all dried out and clings to your to socks or gets in your dog’s ears. Stay tuned next fall for more on Cheatgrass control.
In this long, cold spring following a long cold winter many plants have been slow coming on. But this Wax Currant next to my shady back porch is in its glory. Wax Currant is native to Southern Idaho and much of the Intermountain West. It has leaves smaller and tends to more dense than the better know Golden Currant. It is happiest in part shade. A bit of trimming will maintain its nice compact form.
April 22, 2017
This time of year, when most things in the garden are still dormant, the Sandworts really stand out. Mountain Sandwort is appropriately big and green on St. Patirick’s Day. We grow several other Sandworts–all beautifully evergreen–including one Idaho native, King’s Sandwort (Arenaria kingii).
March 18, 2017
The snow has barely retreated, and here they come! A promise of spring . . . and none too soon for me. These Snowdrops are just the first in a succession of bulbs than will bring color, beauty and joy to the brownest, driest yard. Bulbs are a perfect addition to any xeriscape as they rely on natural moisture to keep them going and basically require no irrigation.
Spring–bring it on!
February 12, 2017
I love the garden in fall with its warm, rusty colors and cheerful splashes of white Strict Buckwheat. The bees know winter is coming and they are all over the many late-blooming flowers.
September 27, 2016